I was having a really difficult time figuring out what I wanted to do for my vacation. I really wanted to go on one but I couldn’t seem to settle on anything. It shouldn’t have been so hard, but somehow it was. I had such an idealized picture of what a vacation should be that I had a hard time letting go and letting God open a door for what would be best for me. It turned into a major problem.
My ideal vacation was from the past—an image, a phantom from my youth—having a great time camping, fishing, and floating down the rapids. But every time I tried to duplicate it, it just didn’t measure up. The image was pulling at me so much that I was getting really aggravated, and everything I planned fell through. I needed a vacation so desperately that I was exhausted just thinking about it. It started as a desire but turned into lust and idolatry. Lust, because I became obsessed with it; idolatry because I’d put it on such a pedestal.
The Holy Spirit interrupted me in the middle of my dilemma and let me know what I was doing, so I stopped seeking the vacation and sought God instead. I looked up the word “idol”: “a phantom, an image in the mind.” I told myself that I had to just let the old phantom image go, that past vacations with the family are now memories, and really great memories, but still memories. I couldn’t continue chasing ghosts. I had to trust that God open doors for new kinds of vacations. I knew He would want me to have a great vacation so I quit trying to figure it out myself.
Chasing a mirage doesn’t deliver true results. The Bible calls this “vanity.” “Walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind” (Eph 4:17). The book of Job puts it this way: “Let him not trust in emptiness, deceiving himself; For emptiness will be his reward” (Job 15:31). The vanities (illusions) are all around us, promising things, looking good, baiting us, but they don’t deliver. Living in Las Vegas I see this all the time.
There’s one casino we’ve nicknamed “the sex hotel.” The young guys come in and you can see the hunger and expectation on their faces. I watched one guy in a restaurant start flirting with a waitress in a way that he fully expected her to take him in the back room for sex right there on the spot. It was kind of hilarious, but sad too. The billboards advertise sex, so the guys come in expecting to get it, but it’s a phantom. They can look all around the main floor of the casino and restaurants and be sorely disappointed. They’re trapped by visions of their imaginations.
I had been caught up in chasing the illusion—a mental and emotional image I had of the perfect vacation. But my picture was something that really wasn’t available in the same way as I saw it in my mind. I wanted to understand how this delusion was working on me, so if I got tempted in this way again, I would be able to recognize it and stop it more immediately. I thought about how being obsessed by this phantom idea made me feel and act; I had become totally crabby and irrationally irritable. I felt like I was being squashed in a vise grip.
The dictionary says a vise is a “screw, that which winds, consisting of two jaws opened and closed to hold or squeeze with.” That’s exactly how I felt. The idol, the image, the vacation mirage had me in its jaws and was squeezing. I felt pressurized and unsatisfied. When I looked up the word “vise,” the dictionary said that it could also be spelled “vice.” I realized that a v-i-c-e (defined as a fault or harmful habit) works much the same way as a v-i-s-e with people’s minds. The vice gets a grip on the mind and it won’t let go. We usually don’t even know the real reason we got trapped by it in the first place.
God tells us that His desire for us is to be free. Paul wrote to the Galatians: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal 5:1). The “yoke of bondage” is the oppression, the vise grips of the unprofitable bondages the world puts on people, rather than the freedom that comes with Christ and walking by the Spirit.
The world is a big billboard of phantoms, and we’ve been bombarded with them since we were young—things we were led to believe were right for us to seek and seize. They were presented to us through all kinds of media including books, magazines, TV, the internet, religion, our parents, teachers, peers, our cultural and ethnic backgrounds, to name a few of the sources of these phantoms. We have even combined what these sources put out, and developed our own versions of certain ideas, or pictures of how we think we’d really like things to be.
My recent picture was of a specific vacation I was idolizing and obsessing over. Another example comes from when I was twenty-one. I had the idea of having twelve kids. I figured since I really liked teaching Sunday school classes with lots of kids, I would love having twelve of my own. But that was my imagined scenario, and I didn’t check it out with the Lord. I also dreamed of being married by the age of twenty-five and I felt devastated when that didn’t happen.
One of my friends used to envision herself having one perfect job—one that she would absolutely love, and she would do it all her life. It didn’t happen. Women often fantasize about what they want in the perfect husband and take the chance of missing the best husband for them—the one God sends. People get an idea of what they see as their perfect family, but then they end up as a single parent, step-mom or a step-dad, and they may feel that their dreams have been forever shattered, and they have a hard time coping with the reality of the new family they’ve been given.
We’ve all had dreams we thought were our own, but sometimes those visions of what we think we want, don’t come from God, but rather from the enticements of the world. When we insist on pursuing these things without really checking them out with the Lord, our thoughts and actions can turn very un-Christ-like and we get further and further away from the good path God has for us. It gets harder and harder to see the truth. Paul says: “I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21 AMP). That’s because when we’re chasing phantoms we’re off track and can’t be at the same time enjoying God’s great inheritance. Paul isn’t saying that if we get trapped by a delusion we’re not going to heaven. It’s just that our lives aren’t going to be as free and satisfying in this life.
Unfortunately many of us only find out that something is wrong for us after we’ve sought it out over and over and it still isn’t doing what we wanted. These illusions disappoint and fail us so many times we finally just can’t ignore them anymore. That’s when we need to take some bold action.
It’s no time to be apathetic. Romans 13:11 says, “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation [wholeness] nearer than when we believed.” It’s time to examine those things we think we want and make some brave changes if necessary. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Why wait, when we can turn some things around right now?
If we truly seek the Lord Jesus Christ, He will not fail us.
He will help us to recognize what ideas and visions are dangerous illusions, and what images are solidly from Him. If we let Christ be with us when we take a closer look, we’ll see where the visions come from: tradition, family, culture, peers, the media, the Lord, or some other source. Once we know where they come from it’s a lot easier to deal with them. If they’re not from God, He’ll provide us with something better. He did that with my vacation.
I didn’t go camping at all, but instead I got to go to Maui and had the best vacation ever.
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